In 1816, 23-year-old Eliphalet Remington II crafted a gun barrel from scrap metal in his father’s blacksmith forge. The next day, he left the family farm and headed to Riley Rogers’ gunsmith shop in Utica, New York, roughly 10 miles away. There, Rogers used his equipment to ream and rifle the barrel. Remington had found his calling. By the 1820s, father and son were manufacturing rifle barrels. These outpaced their production of farm equipment, and they soon outgrew their little stone forge. Within 50 years, the Remington family business would become a global gun-manufacturing empire.

Tragedy and Triumph

In 1828, the Remingtons relocated their gun-making operation to Ilion, New York. They purchased 100 acres on banks of the Erie Canal so they could easily transport their barrels long distances by boat. The company still occupies the same grounds 193 years later.

Tragedy struck the father-son team the same year they moved their business. While transporting lumber from a sawmill, Eliphalet Remington Sr. was thrown from the wagon and crushed. He died from the injuries five days later.

Eliphalet Remington II operated the company alone until he was joined by his sons Philo and Samuel. Eliphalet Remington III followed soon after. With the addition of his three sons, the family’s patriarch changed the company’s name to E. Remington & Sons. Each son brought a different strength to the company. Philo had inherited his father’s mechanical and organizational skills. Eliphalet III was a financial guru. Samuel was a gifted salesman.

The company led the way in manufacturing and firearms innovation. It introduced cast steel barrels which were better quality, cheaper, and easier to machine than iron barrels. The Remingtons also designed a drill that could puncture a small hole 4 feet long through a round bar of steel, which permitted them to produce an unwelded rifle barrel of solid steel. In the late 1840s, the company began fabricating interchangeable parts. These and other innovations allowed E. Remington & Sons to mass-produce high-quality guns and to become one of the most successful gun companies in the U.S.

Remington and the Civil War

In December 1842, the U.S. Army Ordnance Department awarded the John Griffiths Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, a contract to manufacture 5,000 U.S. Model 1841 “Mississippi” rifles at the price of $15 apiece. Griffiths failed to deliver the rifles on time, so Remington jumped at the opportunity to take over the contract in July 1845. He fulfilled the government’s contract for 5,000 rifles by September 1852. His company continued to take on other contracts, produce rifle barrels and sporting guns, and manufacture pistols for civilians. Few gun makers could match its success leading up to the Civil War.

With the outbreak of war in 1861, E. Remington & Sons received a $29 million contract from the U.S. Army. In 1863, it received another contract for 10,000 Remington breech-loading rifles. At its peak, the company produced 200 pistols and 1,000 rifles a day. It also began to manufacture bayonets and cartridges to arm thousands of men volunteering to put down the rebellion.

But Eliphalet Remington II didn’t have a chance to witness much of his company’s success during the war. He died at the age of 69 in August 1861. Philo Remington became president of the company, and the brothers worked together to fill the void.

Rise of the Rolling Block

Remington Rolling Block Display

Remington Rolling Block action cutaway display sample. (Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

The Remington Rolling Block was one of the most widely used rifles during the 19th century. It was simple to operate, durable, reliable and could be chambered in the most popular cartridges. Due to its popularity, the rifle remained in production for more than 50 years. To put this in a modern perspective, the Rolling Block was in production for nearly as long as the M16 has been.

Inventor Leonard M. Geiger designed and patented the rifle’s “rolling” action in January 1863. But Joseph Rider, an employee of E. Remington & Sons, took the design to the next level. He improved Geiger’s action and patented a refined design in November 1864.

E. Remington & Sons began to produce and sell the breech-loading rifles in 1866. By 1872, 1,000 of them were being produced daily. It also licensed the system to other companies. In the spring of 1866, Samuel Remington traveled abroad to demonstrate the efficiency of the rifles, hoping to capitalize on the European market. As a result, Remington Rolling Blocks were used on battlefields throughout Europe and Africa during the latter part of the 19th century. The company sold more than 1.5 million rolling-block rifles in almost every corner of the world by the 1880s.

Changing Hands and Beyond

"Buffalo Bill" Cody with Remington Rolling Block

“Buffalo Bill” Cody with a Remington Rolling Block. (Heritage Auctions, HA.com)

The company fell into financial decline by the 1880s. In 1888, Marcellus Hartley, one of the founders of the Union Metallic Cartridge Company, acquired the company and renamed it the Remington Arms Company. He was instrumental in restoring the company and leading it into the 20th century. Since Eliphalet Remington II built his first hunting rifle more than 200 years ago, “America’s Oldest Gunmaker” continues to produce firearms as RemArms.

Feature image from Cowan’s Auctions, CowanAuctions.com

Further Reading

Ball, Robert W. D. Remington Firearms: The Golden Age of Collecting. Iola, WI: Krause Publications,  1995.

Hatch, Alden. Remington Arms in American History. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1956.

Kirkland, K.D. America’s Premier Gunmakers Remington. East Bridgewater, MA: World Publications Group, Inc., 2007.

Layman, George J. The All New Collector’s Guide to Remington Rolling Block Military Rifles of the World. Woonsocket, RI: Andrew Mowbray Publishers, 2010. 

Marcot, Roy. The History of Remington Firearms. New York: Chartwell Books, Inc., 2010.

Moller, George D. American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume III: Flintlock Alterations and Muzzleloading Percussion Shoulder Arms, 1840-1865. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011.

Peterson, Harold L. Remington Historical Treasure of American Guns. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1966.

Report of Executive Committee of the Amateur Rifle Club Upon the International Match, Together With Detailed Descriptive Accounts of the Match, Marksmen, and Targets; Also, Valuable Statistical Tables of Elevations, Windage, Scores and Matches. Cambridge, MA: The Amateur Rifle Club, 1875.

USCCA’s Look Back Series

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